Sunday, April 20, 2008

Six More Weeks

I really can't believe this school year is almost over. Our high stakes testing starts Tuesday. I'm actually looking forward to the math tests. I find teaching the grade level math core to all kids a more straightforward and easy endeavor than teaching reading and writing. It's less messy and the year-end tests, I believe, are much more indicative of what the students have learned all year. I think this is the first time I've discussed math instruction on this blog, but if you know me in real life, you already know---I love math, and I really love teaching math. Growing up with amazing math instruction (at home) and then getting an incredible physics teacher in high school were two of the reasons I decided to become a teacher myself. Teaching math, for me, is the kind of work where my instincts take over and I just get totally immersed and know where to go next, both with the whole class and with individual kids.

In December I wrote a Donors Choose proposal for $500 of math manipulatives, and it was funded this month. My new proposal is for book sets for Literature Circles.

Here's a very cool tool my brother found for math teachers or mathematicians at any level:
Wolfram Demonstrations Project. You have to download the player first, and then when you download the open source math visualization files you can interact with them.

I am hitting my wall in writing workshop right now. I don't know how to keep it going for another six weeks. My mind is already on next year and I just don't have the energy left to pull off a strong memoir unit. I'm tempted to just let all the good work we've done this year be enough. Hopefully I'll find a way to keep it going. I've been trying to come up with ways to let a poetry compilation be our memoirs, but I don't know how to stay ahead of that game. I had some lofty ambitions of several things to pull together this weekend, but instead I worked in the yard and read and rested.

Oh yeah, the main reason my lamp oil is running so low is because we just finished our annual Shakespeare production. The sixth graders put on A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's such a wonderful, magical thing---putting on a play like this, but it also takes a ton of work. By the way, one of the reasons I've really come to enjoy blogging is because I know I can say things like I've said in this post, especially about the work it takes to pull off a decent student theater production, and there will be teachers out there who UNDERSTAND. It feels so nice to be understood.

A final slice of goodness: Kadir Nelson wrote me back!

Tangerine, by Edward Bloor

This is an excellent sixth grade book. It's a little bit slow, for the first twenty pages, which is why I abandoned it the first time I attempted to read it. However, I'm very glad I gave it a second chance. The pace really picks up and the story and characters are quite well done.

Paul learns many things in this story. He learns what really caused the damage to his eyes when he was young. He learns there are many more ways to live than in the gated, pricey communities he's always taken for granted. He learns to sit on the sidelines, to be a loyal friend, and to stand up for himself. He learns a lot about what kind of a person he wants to be, but here's the thing you've got to trust me on: these lessons are all very tightly woven in the fabric of a wonderful, believable story. There's no explicit moralizing or talking down to the reader. The narration is just Paul, writing in his journal, about a series of experiences that change him.

The plot includes race and class tensions, sibling hatred, less than perfect parents, a couple horrible deaths, and several great soccer games. The resolution is satisfying and the setting (Florida citrus tree lands) is like a subtle but strong character. Lucky for me, Washington has a class set of this book, which I'm looking forward to reading with my sixth graders next year.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Comfort Books

I've been sick for almost three days. Fever. Stomach ache. And a constant head ache. Maybe it's exhaustion. I don't know. As usual, I still worked, while sick, until this morning. This morning I came home around 11 a.m., crawled in bed, and have been sleeping and reading all day.

I started reading Waiting for Normal around 1 p.m. and I'm almost finished. Hunkering down in bed with such a wonderful book feels just like getting warm milk and toast prepared for my sick body by my gentle mom. So comforting.

In fact, reading it is much more pleasant than being on the internet, so, I'll just say this: it's realistic fiction. The main girl character is 12 and her life is sad and poor, but she's blossoming anyway.

Also, I started Painting the Wind, by Pam Munoz Ryan, and it was so good I didn't want it to end, so I stopped after about six chapters. And so now I'll have even more comfort reading for later this evening.